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I absolutely suck at ear training.

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Old_Noob, Nov 23, 2020.

  1. As I mentioned in other threads, I am a failed music major trying to use bass to reconnect with music 25 years later. I love playing bass, but I find myself flashbacking to the hours spent at the music center in college utterly failing at every ear training exercise. I think I just downright suck at it. I have been at it for four weeks doing interval training with various apps. I started at 2/30 correct. Four weeks later I moved up to 3/30 correct on the first attempt. Is there a biological component to this? I can only hear 4 and 5s ...and not even on the first try always.

    This is so frustrating. The reason I dropped my music major in college was because I would spend hours and hours using an ear training program, and after 6 months, was not appreciably better, and failing all my tests. Intervals were guesswork at best and chords were just impossible.

    Now I find myself repeating this, and I am just getting angry and frustrated.

    What is the secret to this? I can memorize notes, scales, modes, patterns......but I can’t friggen HEAR intervals.

    I sometimes try and “play by ear”...but its an exercise in futility. I always wind up having to go to a chart/tab.

    Sorry for the rant.....but this is making me want to give up again.
    rutrho, BassFisher887, Ellery and 7 others like this.
  2. As someone that has a somewhat "tin" ear I hear where you're coming from. While your "ear" can be improved, I don't believe you can ever get to the point of people that are born with either "perfect pitch", or even just a good "ear"!

    You have two choices. Either give up music, or do it to the best of your ability. I choose the later. (Then I ask the guitarist with perfect pitch "Does this sound right"?)
  3. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Ouch. I went through a similar situation (including a C in Music Theory class because I couldn't pass the **** ear training portion of the exam). So I definitely feel your pain. Here are my three words of advice for you, just sharing what I've learned in my own journey:
    1. There's nothing wrong with you. You're not broken or deficient. Your school failed you. It was the professor's job to teach you how to do this, and they let you down. It's not your fault!
    2. I never had any luck with quizzes, flash cards, apps, or any other kind of abstract guessing game. The only thing that ever actually worked for me, was practical, real-world using the actual songs I love as my ear training material. I could care less "what is the interval between these two random pitches? beep. boop," but I'm highly motivated to learn the intervals that make up my favorite songs! For example I'm a huge John Williams fan, and find that his movie themes are great for ear training. For example both "Star Wars" and "Superman" feature 5ths and octaves.
    3. I am utterly incapable of learning ear training on my own. If I hadn't lucked out and found the right teacher, I'd probably still be completely hopeless to this day. Your profile doesn't say where you live, but if you are Boston-area, send me a PM, and I'll give you the name of a great ear training teacher.
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2020

  4. thanks....nice to know I am not the only one in this situation. I will soldier on and love playing..

    I am a type~A personality, and view my failure to learn this in college as a moral failing of sorts {i never fail at things....i may not be good , but I damn well be competent through sheer willpower, practice, and determination- ear training being the exception}. I am probably putting too much pressure on myself. { Bass is kind of my mid-life crisis hobby}.
    Flashback Bass likes this.
  5. I bought a full width rack-mount tuner (Korg DTR2000) and seeing the tone as well as hearing it has improved my pitch. It wasn't an instant fix, but over time it's made a difference, not perfect pitch, but better.
  6. consectaneus


    Sep 23, 2016
    I think you chose the perfect instrument. I love it. It's like my lab for getting inside music. I wonder if you're are fixated on this because you feel like it's beaten you and you have something to prove to yourself. No, I don't mean to be armchair psychologist here. You have every right to follow what interests you--including ear training. But there are so many aspects of the bass you could choose to prioritize as well. Why not back off and let the ear training come as a byproduct of playing music? I find the ears and the fingers--the aural and the physical--combine to reinforce concepts. Or even as stated above, the visual. I'm wondering if the practical application of humming a simple tune--nursery rhymes even--or old hymns which are very scalar/modal, and playing them on the bass would be more fun and practical.

    Then again, getting what you want could be a matter of finding the right teacher/format/online course that turns the key. I have certainly found that the way it's presented can make all the difference. Good luck!
  7. Oh I freely admit the ear training aspect involves proving something to myself.
  8. thabassmon


    Sep 26, 2013
    New Zealand
    As others have said, there is nothing wrong with you.

    It's just something that can be improved with practice. Associating intervals with tunes is a good way to do it.

    Gary Willis has a book specifically for guitar and bass players, if that helps. I have had that book for over a decade but I have yet to work through it.

    Just like most things start simple and work towards complex, if you are having trouble it makes no sense to incorporate all chromatic intervals over multiple octaves ascending and descending.

    You will gain more progress if you limit the option first and then gradually add other intervals, such as beginning with three option such as Major 3rd, Perfect 5th and an Octave ascending. As your success rate increases and you gain for confidence adding a Major 2nd, Perfect 4th, Major 6th, Major 7th can be added to increase you interval recognition abilities.

    When you have that under control, minor 2nd, minor 3rd, diminished 5th, minor 6th and minor 7th intervals.

    Don't rush through it. You could also try and sing the intervals, for example a major third. First play and sing along the with your instrument (like George Benson) C > E then try playing the first note C, sing that note C and then try and sing the major third E, then check if you nailed it by playing the E.

    The singing of the intervals should help you internalise it, it doesn't matter the quality of your singing voice tonally, what is important is that you can pitch the correct note.

    You can also use it to figure out you vocal range.

    Like with all skills, applying them in a practical sense will help solidify the skill. Try transcribing a riff that you've always wanted to play, a cool lick that you like, building up to a song or solo that you want to play.
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2020
  9. Try using the association method. Find eleven songs that use the different intervals for the first two notes and memorize them. One each from minor second to major seventh. When you need to identify an interval match it up against your song list until you find a match. Hope this helps.
    Seanto, And I, DrMole and 3 others like this.
  10. Lagado

    Lagado Inactive Suspended

    Jan 6, 2020
  11. wjackman


    Aug 29, 2019
    LOL, you can't be worse at ear training than I am! And like you, I take it as a personal affront that I do so poorly at it. I'm taking a music skills class locally to learn intervals and chords, and will only pass because the teacher is a nice guy. There are also some tech solutions that have helped me learn what I little I know.

    For iPhone/iPad, there's the app called Tenuto that's really good for training (I assume it's available for Android phones). You can set it to test you for ascending-only intervals, descending-only intervals, intervals from a fixed starting note or not, whatever you want, it keeps score so you can measure improvement from day to day. Also an app called EarMaster (again, iPhone/iPad) to help you with singing notes to recognize intervals that way. I've used both of them, especially Tenuto, which I used religiously this summer, about ten minutes a day, to get better.

    Finally, there's a website that has many of these functions for free, teoria : Music Theory Web. It's out of Puerto Rico, and has English and Spanish versions. My music skills teacher uses this site regularly in class.

    I promise I have no association with any of these products - they're just things that helped me learn. Good luck!
    fenjazz and Old_Noob like this.

  12. thanks bro!
  13. Killed_by_Death

    Killed_by_Death Snaggletooth Inactive

    I've been seriously frustrated with this for years, because people who can hear it say anyone can. I've been trying for years, nope, still can't even tune by ear.
    I can get close, but only by feeling the tension, but today I was flummoxed, trying to tune a 2nd string to D with a clip-on tuner, & had to switch over to something more verbose to let me know if I was Over or Under the desired pitch, because it wasn't registering on the clip-on & I wasn't sure whether to go up farther or down, & I just had a string breaking free incident yesterday.

    Others ALWAYS comment, 'Anyone can learn, just do it!", but their words are false.
  14. My hearing has always been bad. I have a long history doing noisy things. Guns, Racecars, and of course , playing bass. I blame cymbals and Marshall stacks for a lot of my hearing loss.
    I have learned to cheat a lot. (use charts, have people write down the chords, even use tablature)
    Fab Superlative likes this.
  15. Lagado

    Lagado Inactive Suspended

    Jan 6, 2020
    If someone gave me a root and asked me to sing a minor third over it, that's the first two notes of "Whole Lotta Love", you see how that works, it's instant recall. Perfect 5th? The first interval of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." Instant recall through familiarity...
    Cut the middle and thabassmon like this.
  16. coyote1


    Mar 23, 2012
    “Perfect pitch” is a myth. No one comes out of the womb knowing the diff between C# and Dd (yes, diatonically there is a difference. Those of us used to tempered instruments just don’t know it anymore.) or knowing the names of the pitches. Or knowing that A440 is the standard for orchestral tuning (many orchestras tune slightly higher).

    All pitch knowledge is relative. To be sure, the prodigy grasps it much earlier in life than others - but it’s still relative. And it can be learned later in life such that identifying pitches by name and correctly hearing intervals seems, from the view of an outside observer, as if you have perfect pitch.
    jamro217 likes this.
  17. Lagado

    Lagado Inactive Suspended

    Jan 6, 2020
    I know someone who has perfect pitch:

    Synesthesia - Wikipedia
    walking Bass likes this.
  18. too many ska and punk shows in my youth without eatplugs did me in
  19. zie

    zie Supporting Member

    Sep 12, 2014
    Tulsa, Oklahoma
    I don't know what your goal is when it comes to ear training but according to my research, it comes down to perfect pitch and absolute pitch. According to research, Adults can't develop perfect pitch; they can only get as far as absolute pitch.

  20. MD-BassPlayer

    MD-BassPlayer Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2003
    Maybe you're like me. I think I hear number of cycles difference in pitches rather than percentage of cycles difference. I've been using an app on iOS called Tenuto to practice identifying intervals. Sometimes I just set it to major and minor 3rds, that used to be super difficult, again because I think I was trying to hear number of cycles instead of percent differences. Once I realized that, my scores greatly improved and I'm still far from perfect pitch, but I am improving. Also I have been working on pulling pitches out of memory. If you play a note, stop the note and then sing the note, you can do that. So, you in fact can remember a pitch. Why can't you pull a pitch from long term memory? I'm finding that it is possible. For a C, I think of the octave interval at the beginning of a song that I can't remember the title, go figure. For D, Wanted Dead or Alive. E, Tom Sawyer. Anyways, using that method I can get very close to pitches.

    Playing by ear, epiphany a few years ago - screw intervals, you should be listening for chords. Instead of listening for a G moving up a fourth to a C, you should be thinking, hey we're in the key of G. That's a I chord moving to a an IV chord. Maybe there's a walk up or something else happening, but if you know how the chords are moving, then it's much easier to figure out the notes. With just intervals, when you miss one, you're screwed. Another thing that helps with identifying if it's a I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi and rarely vii chord is by playing guitar. Pick up a cheap acoustic and learn to play some of the typical chord shapes. It also helps to be able to look at the guitar player and recognize they're playing a D shape in capo 4, so that's an F# chord.
    Mushroo and dbsfgyd1 like this.
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